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March 21, 1998


India makes it 2-0

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Prem Panicker

The result -- an India win -- was expected. The ease of it, however, was not.

It is easy to dismiss this Australian side, on the basis of the showing thus far, as of no account. To do so, however, would be crass folly -- even the most cursory review of recent cricketing history will throw up brilliant performances by pretty much this same outfit, both in winning games, and defending lost causes and pulling off outstanding draws.

Which brings up the question: why is this team, which brims with potential, cracking so badly time and again?

It's a question that merits a more detailed analysis, ahead of Test three, which begins in Bangalore this Wednesday. For now, the game as it unfolded...

First up, if there is one guy who needs an award here, it is the curator -- the Calcutta track for this game is as good a one as you will see anywhere in the world. For all of four days, it didn't change character one iota. It helped strokeplay, helped quick bowlers get nip and bounce, helped spinners get purchase and turn, and for four days, remained an absolutely fair Test track.

Australia opened with Blewett and Taylor, India with Srinath and Kumble. And both India's lead bowlers in the series started off bang on target, Srinath being fiery at the start of the day while Kumble stayed tight on line, his tendency to get the odd one to stand up from a length putting the element of doubt in the batsman's mind.

Well as Kumble and Srinath bowled, though, it needs saying that Blewett's dismissal owes, as it has throughout this series, to his own technical flaw. As discussed in these columns before, Blewett makes a practise of going right across the stumps, and working off to leg. Fine, you could say, so do the Indians. Which is true, but the difference is, the Indians are used to the fact that on these pitches, the ball slows fractionally on pitching, so they wait that extra fraction of a second, let it come on, and then play the stroke.

Blewett, by contrast, has throughout this series kept playing as if he was batting at the WACA, not making allowance for the slightly slower pace off the track. Which is okay for a visiting batsman in his first, maybe even his second, innings on foreign soil -- but when he keeps doing it, into his fourth innings, it argues a certain want of thought. Blewett should have been declared LBW late yesterday -- instead, the decision came this morning, as he went across to flick Kumble to leg, the straight flipper came on too quick and thudded into his pad bang in front of middle and leg.

Mark Waugh came in, and Srinath gave him a very torrid time with three successive short pitched deliveries, the first thudding into his shoulder as Mark took hasty evasive action, the second crashing into his glove, the third cutting him in two and sneaking over the stumps. After that bit of softening up, the batsman was noticeably hesitant against Kumble and the leggie took advantage, pitching a flipper just a shade shorter, making it jump for Mark to prod at it, the ball taking the splice to give Laxman an easy take at short square.

Within the space of ten overs this morning, India had effectively ruined Australia's hopes of making a fight of this one, with two swift strikes. And shortly after, the cause became even more hopeless thanks to Ponting's thoughtless batting.

Obviously, the right prescription for Australia, all along, was to forget the immensity of the overall task, to play each ball to merit and play shots on a pitch on which the Indian strokemakers had revelled for almost two days. But that is not to say that sense should not be applied to shot-selection -- and sweeping at a Kumble top-spinner on off did not show good sense, more so in the context of the situation. With sickening inevitability, he top edged -- and Srinath, exemplifying an outstanding Indian effort in the field, raced in from the boundary at deep backward square, running a good twenty yards, then sliding forward on his knees and plucking the ball just as it was about to hit the turf.

Another scintillating piece of fielding accounted for the Australian skipper. All along, Mark Taylor batted with a commonsense, head down approach, shrugging off the balls that beat him, playing strokes to the ones that lapsed in line and length, and looking ominously sound.

Here, he walked into a push off the pads at a Kumble delivery, intending to work the single to midwicket. Laxman, at short square leg, anticipated brilliantly, dived sideways, fielded on the bounce and flicked it back to keeper Mongia before Taylor, realising the danger, could get his foot back inside the crease -- an outstanding reflexive effort.

An aside about Mark Taylor: the Aussie captain was noticeably having problems running hard between wickets, and often stayed content with two runs where three was on the cards. The reason? He is so scared of contracting malaria that he's been taking extra-strength anti-malarial drugs -- the effects of which left him winded.

Like Warne and his baked beans, this is typical of the paranoia with which visiting players tend to view India. Sure, there are crowds, and pollution, and heat (given that it is 35+ degrees in Oz right now, as here at the Gardens, though, I am not quite sure why this last is being cited as a factor). But India is no cesspool, tourists come to these shores by the planeloads every day of the year and last I heard, didn't die in droves. And again, I don't see what there is in the constitution of a cricketer that makes him think he is more susceptible to mysterious Oriental ailments than the average tourist is.

But instead of merely taking the sensible precautions, visiting cricketers tend to carry things to ridiculous extremes -- and Taylor's breathlessness is just one more price they pay for such folly.

Back to the game, and Ian Healy at that point was joined by Steve Waugh. The latter batted at number seven, the low number mandated partly by his absence from the field throughout the Indian innings, and partly by a groin strain that, last we heard, could keep him out of the third Test.

And yet, the gritty keeper and the injured Waugh senior were the ones who showed their more flamboyant predecessors how it's done. Healy mixed his trademark hits over midwicket and mid on with an obdurate defence, and held the Indian bowlers at bay for all of 104 deliveries before falling to a rather unfortunate decision. The Srinath off cutter pitched on off and came in a long way, striking Healy on the pad in front of middle. However, the amount of deviation off the seam meant the ball could have missed leg -- the element of doubt was there, and it was a pity that Healy didn't get the benefit of it.

Warne, too, played with unusual (for him, that is, given that his more usual mode is to tense his bulging biceps and go for broke) circumspection. And then Kumble struck a decisive one-two, in the first over after lunch. The second ball of the over Kumble, noticing that Warne was pushing firmly on his defensive strokes, held a flipper back, Warne again pushed, the ball lobbed back down the pitch for the bowler to hold.

And two balls later, Kumble turned one away outside off, for Robertson to push blindly at it, the edge going low to the right of Azhar at slip, the Indian captain pulling off a magnificient diving take.

Those two blows finished the game off, what followed was merely anticlimax. Steve Waugh yet again showed the grit that makes him modern cricket's most obdurate fighter, hanging in there for 138 deliveries, ignoring the pain and keeping the bowlers at bay, before another Kumble flipper, pitched up, beat his defensive push and crashed into his pads. Waugh made a show of standing there and staring down the pitch at the umpire -- Cooray, it was -- but that decision didnt have a shadow of doubt in it, the charitable would thus ascribe Waugh's reaction to mere chagrin.

With nothing left to play for, Kasprowicz took a healthy swipe at Chauhan's off spinner, for Raju on the line at midwicket to round off a superlative Indian performance in the field with a finely judged catch, right on the line.

Australia had lost by an innings and 219 runs -- India's biggest ever win in terms of an innings, the previous highest being the innings and 119 run win against Sri Lanka in 1993-1994.

For Australia, it was easily the biggest loss to India -- though the all time record for the tourists, of course, was the Oval Test of 1938, when the Aussies went down by an innings and 579 runs.

Match referee Peter Van Der Merwe has given enough reason for heartburn already, in this series. But he rounded it off with a reason to applaud, when he announced his choice of man of the match. "A plethora of Indian batsmen all deserved the award," said the South African official. "But I want to give it to the man who opened up the Australian innings both times, and exposed the batting side to the spinners." Javagal Srinath it was, for his early strikes in both innings that ensured that Australian batsmen spent the entire innings on the defensive.

"We lost the game right from the first over of the match," Mark Taylor said, of a match in which the unofficial world champions were outplayed comprehensively with bat, ball and on the field.

Besides the outstanding fielding display, Srinath and Kumble deserve kudos for an outstanding display of aggressive bowling. Raju played an immaculate supporting role, troubling all batsmen and, as evidenced by his analysis, proving almost impossible to get away. Chauhan, in fact, was the only one of the Indian bowlers to be a shade pedestrian.

And so on to Bangalore, for the third Test beginning Wednesday...


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